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December 20, 2015

After rogue balloon in Pennsylvania, Army may nix blimp program

Surveillance system suffers deep cuts in budget deal

The rogue blimp that roamed the skies of Pennsylvania may have been the final straw for the U.S. Army program that employed it. 

In October, an unmanned, helium-filled balloon stationed in Maryland broke loose and hovered over the Commonwealth for a couple hours, carrying a long chain before being grounded.

The blimp was a part of a surveillance program, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS aerostat).

The $2.7 billion system has been plagued by delays and technical difficulties since its inception in 1998 and has been lambasted by several recent Pentagon reports giving the program low grades, according to the Baltimore Sun.

After the incident, the fate of the program was left up in the air (pun completely intended), but members of the defense appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate didn't suggest they would cut funding for it in November during budget negotiations.

However, it appears one of the oddest headlines of the year may have been enough to change their tune. 

In the recent budget deal signed into law by President Barack Obama, lawmakers have axed a large portion of JLENS' cash flow. More from CBS News:

The federal budget finalized by Congress this year cut $30 million of funding from the blimp surveillance program, providing only $10.5 million, CBS News' Chip Reid reports.
President Obama had requested $40.5 million.

CBS notes the blimp program became a punching bag for GOP presidential candidates after the Pennsylvania incident, serving as a symbol of government waste. Now, despite an ongoing Army investigation into the viability of the program, the lack of funding could kill the program altogether.